Yoga changes gene expression,improves immunity

26 Apr 2013

You're probably not thinking about gene expression while stretching into downward dog in the yoga studio, but researchers have discovered that yoga has an almost immediate positive impact on a genetic level.

The study from Norway suggests that yoga may be better than traditional exercise for strengthening the immune system.

"These data suggest that previously reported effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level, which is initiated immediately during practice, and may form the basis for the long-term stable effects," the researchers write.

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In other words, that yoga glow you feel after you roll up your mat? It may be the 111 genes that changed expression while you were deep in your practice.

At least, that's what the research team found during an experiment with 10 participants who gathered at a yoga retreat for a week.

The participants practiced yoga for the first two days, spending two hours moving through postures, breathing exercises and meditation. Then they shifted to spending the time in nature walks and listening to music for the next two days.

When the researchers analyzed blood drawn from the participants before and after each session, they found that yoga changed the expression of almost triple the number of genes in immune cells that the nature walk did: 111 vs 38.

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Researchers had suspected for a few years that forms of exercise that produce "the relaxation response" might affect gene expression, but they didn't necessarily realize the effect would be so immediate, writes the Pacific Standard.